The news that Mark Durkan, the former leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party, has suspended his party membership to contest the European parliamentary elections in Dublin on behalf of Fine Gael, while surprising, is certainly not unprecedented. When Fianna Fáil and the SDLP announced their joint policy alignment in late January, many members of the regional organisation claimed that the formal alliance with the centre-right national grouping was a betrayal of its left-wing roots. Arguably, though, those roots were never particularly deep in the first place. Despite its nominal relationship with the Labour Party and its counterpart in Britain, several SDLP members have followed a similar route into national right-wing politics. Austin Currie, a County Tyrone politician and one of the SDLP’s original founders in the early 1970s, went on in the late 1980s and 1990s to become a TD for the constituency of Dublin West, a presidential nominee and a government minister for FG. His daughter, Emer Currie, is currently Leo Varadkar’s running-mate in the constituency her father represented and a long-time party activist.
Mark Durkan’s candidacy illustrates that the SDLP’s ideological instincts are a lot more complex than it lets on. Even to itself. It also gives added weight to the belief that there has been a sea-change in Irish politics created by Brexit and two decades of post-Good Friday Agreement relations on the island. If peace comes dropping slow, so does reunification.